2018 Toyota LandCruiser Sahara Review : Road Test

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Ten years after the current generation’s introduction, can the 2018 Toyota LandCruiser Sahara still justify its eye-watering price tag?

What we liked:

>> Smooth, quiet and torquey engine
>> Off-road ability
>> Superb occupant comfort

Not so much:

>> It all comes at a price…
>> A big beast around town
>> Short service intervals

The Toyota LandCruiser is a giant on the Aussie four-wheel drive landscape, and this 200 Series Sahara – with 4.5-litre V8 twin-turbo-diesel – represents the pinnacle of the breed. With 200kW/650Nm fed through its six-speed automatic transmission, there’s ample grunt for blacktop touring, off-road adventures and primo toy hauling. But a decade after the 200 Series’ arrival, how does it still stack up for value? Our test vehicle is priced from $130,035 drive away.

motoring.com.au had initially teed up this 2018 Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series Sahara as a tow tug for looming boat test for sister site boatsales.com.au, but when the boat in question was sold at the last minute, we weren’t going to let the Sahara’s storied talents go to waste.

Instead, this scribe and his family of four packed the LandCruiser for a camping trip – a rustic counterpoint to a week otherwise spent battling Melbourne traffic.

The LandCruiser’s strengths are many and varied but for the range’s $130,035 (drive away, ex-Melbourne) flagship model, with twin-turbo-diesel V8-engine, they’d want to be. For what is essentially a decade-old platform, can the Sahara’s ability still justify the expense?

Proud history

The 200 Series LandCruiser initially arrived in 2008 and it represented a major generational update from its predecessor, the 100 Series. Ostensibly a more refined alternative to the no-frills, hardworking 70 Series, the 200 Series is available in GX, GXL, VX and Sahara grade trims (plus an ‘Altitude’ special edition, based on the GXL).

Even the base-model GX, which is common among mining, forestry and emergency services fleets, commands a healthy recommended retail price, starting from nearly $86,000 drive away (ex-Melbourne).

However, if you need more space, more payload and more towing capacity than Toyota’s top-selling LandCruiser Prado, the 200 Series is where it’s at. And since Nissan ditched its turbo-diesel Patrol in late 2016, the LandCruiser really is, from many perspectives, in a class of its own.

The LandCruiser’s front end received a freshen-up in 2016 along with some tech updates and a particulate filter for the diesel (and a hefty price rise), but little has really changed in the model since its introduction. Why mess with a proven formula, right?

Comfort and convenience

Jumping behind the wheel is far from onerous. There are grab handles for both front and second-row occupants and side steps to ease the process. Interior comfort is exemplary, the overall finish classy. There’s plenty of leather plus piano black and faux woodgrain and brushed alloy trim to break up the various hard textures across the dash and door interiors, and the leather seating is sumptuous.

Both driver and front passenger benefit from heated and ventilated seating (there’s seat heating for second-row occupants too), while both front seats score electric adjustment (with lumbar support and a choice of three pre-set positions for the driver). Add in the overarching sense of space, and this is a very comfortable base for extended family adventures.

The centre second-row seat’s headrest does obscure rear vision, somewhat – we’d remove it when not required.

Our test vehicle is powered by Toyota’s 4.5-litre twin-turbo-diesel V8. Good for a claimed 200kW and a whopping 650Nm, it’s the dearer alternative to the 4.6-litre petrol V8 (227kW/439Nm).

Combined with a braked towing capacity of 3500kg, it’s those output figures that make the LandCruiser the tow tug of choice for major loads – anecdotal evidence and first-hand tests show that a turbo-diesel ‘Cruiser makes relative light work of jobs near or at its 3500kg limit, and significantly more so than the current crop of similarly rated dual-cab pickups.

However, this is a big rig. With a kerbside weight of 2740kg and generous proportions, it’s one of if not the biggest ‘standard’ passenger vehicle on the road without going to the larger US pickups like the Dodge Ram (now RAM 1500/2500/3500), Ford F-150/250, Chevy Silverado et al.

With its GVM (gross vehicle mass) and GCM (gross combination mass) limits pegged at 3350kg and 6850kg respectively, this Sahara can handle payloads and trailer loads that would shame most other passenger vehicles.

Power and handling

It’s no surprise to discover the Sahara is a little ponderous around town. With a hefty turning circle and a steering range of 3.25 turns lock to lock, it’s not your preferred tool for city commutes and it’s a handful in tight, multi-storey carparks.

However, it’s also not as bad in the urban jungle as you may think: there’s a plethora of cameras and sensors to assist parking and the high ride height delivers a commanding view.

The power steering feels quite heavy but it also instils a sense of security and confidence on the road (even more so on the dirt).

The twin-turbo-diesel is a gem – so smooth, so torquey, yet so refined. It’s responsive too, with a quick dab on the accelerator rapidly provoking a surge forward that belies the Sahara’s size and weight.

In the Sahara both engine options are mated to the sole choice of a six-speed automatic. The fact there’s only six cogs is showing the platform’s age, but the shifts are smooth and fast enough in sequential manual mode, and smart enough (in terms of gear selection for a given situation) in full auto mode.

At 100km/h in sixth the Sahara is pulling a lazy 1400rpm. Redline is indicated at 4500rpm, but there’s really no need to reach it – just let the low-down and mid-range torque work its magic…

There’s rapid response and ample grunt for highway overtakes, even without engaging power mode (via a centre-console button).

To sum up, the Sahara is a superb companion on any long-distance, blacktop tour – an endeavour aided by modern niceties like radar cruiser control and myriad safety systems like autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, fatigue alert and more.

Creature comforts

Then there’s the large 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with integrated factory sat-nav, complemented by twin displays (with wireless headphones) for cosseted second-row passengers and the quality nine-speaker sound system (with DAB+ digital radio, Bluetooth streaming, CD and DVD player).

Add to that auto wipers, auto LED headlights, comprehensive trip computer, electric sunroof, keyless entry, pushbutton starting, four-zone climate control, centre-console cool box – the list goes on.

However, the Sahara is showing its age in terms of power outlets. While there are 12-volt sockets up front and for the second row, there’s only the one USB port – up front at the bottom of the centre stack. You’ll need a USB adaptor for devices being used in the second row, although the 220-volt socket at the very rear of the vehicle, which accepts a standard Aussie power plug, is a handy feature.

Sound suppression is top notch – wind and road noise are duly dampened, leaving little but the muted growl of the V8 diesel to intrude upon the serenity (no bad thing, in our books!).

The Sahara is a logical choice for towing large trailer boats, car trailers and caravans, but it’s just a wonderfully capable and competent mile eater in its own right – and that’s before we consider the Sahara’s considerable off-road prowess…

Off-road ability

And ‘considerable’ is the word. We took our Sahara to our preferred off-road test lab to pit it against some decent gradients and it truly impressed with its capability.

Shod with Dunlop GrandTrek AT25s, it handled most things we threw at it with total nonchalance, with only one technical climb requiring a drop in tyre pressures to conquer.

The LandCruiser has a full-time four-wheel drive system with dual-range transfer case. Selecting low range must be done from a standstill in neutral, as you’d expect, and there’s also a centre-locking differential and multi-terrain modes to deliver the best traction for the job at hand, along with a crawl mode for particularly technical going.

The latter allows the driver to lock a rear wheel to help swing the vehicle’s nose around on a tighter radius, when tackling a steep descent.

As for the stats, the LandCruiser boasts a wading depth of 700mm and approach and departure angles of 32 and 24 degrees respectively. The Sahara’s spare wheel is mounted under the chassis at the rear of the vehicle and is a limiting factor in this respect, as are the side steps (which are still essential for helping smaller children to hop in or out, and for easy access to roof platforms).

Ground clearance is a healthy 230mm.

Suspension and safety

The LandCruiser has a coil/shock arrangement at all four corners with a live rear axle, and the Sahara comes standard with a Kinetic Damping Suspension System. We won’t go into too much detail here, but suffice to say it utilises stabiliser bars front and rear for high-speed on-road stability, which decouples via a hydraulic system to allow greater wheel articulation when off-road.

In reality, it works a treat – the Sahara displays thoroughly placid road manners on the bitumen, still with some body roll but nothing like what you might expect for its bulk, while its wheel articulation in tough terrain keeps all four wheels in contact with terra firma for the vast majority of the time.

Still, given its weight and dimensions, it doesn’t take too much for the tyres to start protesting when scooting through smaller roundabouts or tighter corners. At least the stability control is on point, smooth in its intervention and ever ready to call time on excess enthusiasm before things get out of hand.

Safety is well addressed. The Sahara attracts a five-star ANCAP safety rating and comes with a full complement of airbags in addition to all the usual safety standards (antilock brakes, switchable traction control, electronic stability control etc) and, as already detailed, plenty of premium safety features.

Cargo capacity

And did we mention the carrying capacity? Toyota quotes a cargo load area volume of 1276 litres behind the second-row seating, but whatever the figure – rest assured it’s huge. The third-row seats fold down or up in a flash, and the second-row seating folds flat or flat and forwards for even more room.

We made full use of this capacity on our weekend camping trip, even managing to squeeze in two double self-inflating mattresses (usually relegated to a roof platform in other vehicles). We like the rear split tailgate arrangement, too – the larger upper tailgate provides shelter in bad weather while the soft-opening lower one gives an even lower platform height for easy loading.

Front cabin storage? There centre console bin is deep and keeps drinks really cold when the cooling function is on, and the lockable glove box is pretty roomy too. The door side pockets aren’t huge, however, and the bottle holders won’t take a bottle of wine (a bit of a yardstick, in our books!).

As for downsides, for the Sahara it really boils down to nit-picking, not deal-breaking. The multimedia display is hard to read in direct sunlight and the scalloped bonnet can obscure vision on steep, technical climbs or descents. Handy then, that you can use the front camera to give a better view of the terrain immediately in front of you. And at this price point we’d like to see a tyre pressure monitor in the mix.

Service intervals are pegged at every 10,000km/six months, whichever comes first. That’s pretty short in this day and age, and will add to LandCruiser ownership costs significantly.

Of course the fuel economy of a rig like this isn’t going to touch your average Prius… The Sahara is big and heavy, but our average of 15.4L/100km was achieved over a 50:50 mix of road and off-road driving, so it’s not too bad all things considered. Naturally towing will see that figure increase considerably.

And with a total of 138 litres of fuel capacity, we’re talking a safe touring range of something approaching 900km.

Summing up

Totota’s LandCruiser Sahara is still worthy of all the claims, hyperbole and marketing bluster, despite its age and its premium price tag.

Comfortable, quiet and incredibly capable – both on and off the road – for extended family adventures or for hauling major loads, the Sahara really is a first-rate package.

Yes, it’s expensive, but with the family in tow and for exploring our vast, often remote landscape, the 200 Series LandCruiser Sahara remains in a class of its own.

How much does the 2018 Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series Sahara cost?
  • Price: $130,035 (drive away, ex-Melbourne)
  • Engine: 4.5-litre eight-cylinder twin-turbo-diesel
  • Output: 200kW/650Nm
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic
  • Fuel: 15.4L/100km (as tested)
  • CO2: 309g/km (ADR Combined)
  • Safety Rating: Five-star ANCAP

(motoring.com.au, http://bit.ly/2IalV2q)

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